By Chris Carson, golf course superintendent and cheese layman
On a recent road trip from San Diego to Seattle with my 27 year old daughter, Lydia, we visited many spectacular natural and man-made places, but the one destination that was her “absolute must” was the cheese factory in Tillamook, Oregon.
I’m sure this relates to her positive recollections of our frequent day trips in and around our home in New Jersey that frequently included factory tours. We’ve tasted still-warm potato chips, seen guitars being crafted and coins being minted over the years, but never cheese. So cheese making was our goal, and cheese making we saw… well, cheese packaging anyway; we would have enjoyed seeing the whole process but that wasn’t available.
We arrived at the large factory minutes before closing, rushed upstairs to the self-guided tour that overlooked the packaging plant and ice cream urns, then quickly toured the gift shop in which any number of cheese-related items were available. Resisting the very strong urge to purchase a 5 pound loaf of extra-sharp cheddar (we were on a road trip; how could we expect to keep such a treasure safe and edible?), we were content to take a few photos and store into our memories another fond road trip experience.
The friendly folks who staffed the place were in a giddy mood, with smiles all around. We discovered just before parting that the reason for the festive atmosphere was the 104th birthday of the company, and that evening an all-hands-on-deck party was planned. The balloons were a clue, but the three birthday cakes and the expanding group of excited employees near the attached café were the giveaway. Being the last people in the gift shop made us feel a bit guilty, and I asked the nice woman behind the register if she wasn’t planning on attending the birthday party. Her response made me smile: “Oh, I’m going… and I plan on being a big part of the celebration!”
Yes, the Tillamook Cheese Factory was buzzing with excitement, and we left feeling just a little bit better about the cheese world. We figured that if these folks can be so positive and happy about what they do it must inevitably be reflected in the quality of their product. Lydia, who has spent the last two years in California and exclaimed on several occasions during our trip as we passed idyllic pastures, “Good cheese comes from happy cows!,” was pleased that we’d made it before closing time, and that we’d added yet another example of American craftsmanship to our collective memories. San Francisco, Napa, the California and Oregon coastline, and Seattle were fun too…